Friday, January 29, 2010

The Art of Waiting, Patiently.

When I examine my day, I'm amazed at how much time I spend simply waiting. I wait for Grampa George to get up in the morning, now that he's learned that it's alright not get up at the crack of dawn; I wait for him to get up from his naps (yes that's plural because there are at least 5 and a half naps per day depending on his mood) so that I can serve breakfast, lunch or dinner; I wait for Nana to come out of her room in the morning because she thinks she has to stay in there until she hears someone else up and about so as not to disturb anyone, except that we've all been up for hours, since she's needed a hearing aid she refuses to get; I wait in waiting rooms at doctor's appointments, labs and senior's centres; and every day I wait while Nana finishes eating.
Sure I could just wake Grampa G. and Nana whenever I want them to get up, make them stick to my schedule and toe the line. Actually, I don't have the heart. One of my philosophies as a caregiver is to allow the dear people trusting me to care for them to have as much freedom and dignity as possible. One of their rare freedoms is to be able to sleep if and when they want to, within reason. Who am I to barge in on someone napping, just to plate their lunch on time. A few minutes here or there won't hurt anyone, and so I wait.
Waiting at appointments of any kind is a given that doesn't even phase me anymore. Matter of fact when others waiting alongside me start fuming, I tend to extend a smile and some gentle humor to ease their distress if I can. And I always bring my knitting. If I'm deep into a ten yard afghan, I take along some other quickie project that's more portable. The Needlework Guild of Canada is always happy for donations which they distribute to the long list of charitable organizations they support, and they have an amazing wool exchange program to help offset the cost of supplies to their members. And knitting is soooooo relaxing. Grampa George and Nana prefer to people watch, or doze, between washroom breaks, while waiting at an appointment; worst case, if they get antsy, I haul out a large print Readers Digest I carry for emergencies.
Waiting for Nana to finish eating, anything at all, has proven to be a challenge at times. While everyone else at the table polishes off their meal in record time, she carefully chews and pre-digests every mouthful before cautiously swallowing. Certainly I could walk away, fold laundry or take a short nap myself if I wanted. But to leave her sitting there at the table all by herself, like a little kid in trouble, would be extremely rude. So I sit with her, however long it takes, until she's done. The daily paper is dog eared by the time I'm done with it, from the front page to the obituaries, as I've taken to reading everything in it including the classifieds. I know every new massage parlour and tantalizing personal ad, each breeder with a new litter of Rottweilers and the shots they've had, and who's paying big for stamp collections in any condition. Between bites we chat. We're big on weather, Nana and I, taking bets on how many degrees below zero the temperature will fall overnight. And we examine the adorable Kittens and Friends photo on the daily calendar I've put next to her placemat to help her remember what day it is.
Waiting, like anything else, takes practice. I've had plenty but still have days when I get fidgety and heave the occasional silent sigh, wondering how long she'll be today. Then I remind myself of how lucky I am. I've been blessed with the privilege of being able to give back to someone who's given me so much. What a wonderful thing! If Nana needs time to enjoy her meal, then time is what she shall have and I will patiently wait, reading, chatting, musing at how something so simple is really no trouble at all.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hygienically Speaking

In most developed countries, hygiene is relatively matter of fact, or it should be. Frequent handwashing is the most common and one of the most effective practices to keep from spreading germs and other unmentionables.
It's out there: we're being bombarded with messages, advertisements and admonishments from all the experts. And so a large part of the population is learning. Good for us!
Training someone who's hygiene habits are more than seventy five years behind is not so easy. Nana's handwashing is relatively reasonable, particularly post-bathroom, the most important time. She still scoffs at the very mention of washing fruits and vegetables though, whether they come from the grocery store after who knows how many hands have touched them or whether they've just been plucked from the garden, soil laden and bug buzzed. When she was growing up they'd dig up carrots by the fistful, simply swishing the soil from them in the stream the neighboring farmer's barn effluent would leak into; yummy.
Grampa George's habits are a little more concerning. Handwashing was a commodity, not a responsibility when he was growing up, since water, food and many other things we consider necessities of life were often not available. Toilet paper being one of those meant you'd wipe your butt with a handful of leaves, grass, or hay or if you were really lucky some torn up newspaper hanging from a nail.
To cut to the chase, he doesn't wash his hands after using the toilet and no amount of reminding has helped change that nasty habit. Unfortunately it means that anything he touches gets 'contaminated'. Nobody's died yet in our household as a result of this, but it's gross.
Greeting anyone with a handshake means passing on whatever's on his hands. Eating something as simple as a salt-free cracker he's handled means ingesting what's there. If there's no spoon available he's been known to nonchalantly stir his lukewarm coffee with his finger. Could be worse, right? Absolutely.
Grampa George's unwashed hand ended up reaching into the pickle jar to grab a baby dill when it happened to be standing on the counter open and unsupervised. Had to toss it, half-full; sorry starving people around the world, but it was too much for me to handle.
What to do? Keep reminding him, gently. (No need to insult the man.) And put out an abundance of antibacterial hand sanitizer bottles. Drawn to them in doctors offices and hospitals whenever we go for appointments or tests, Grampa George has learned to reach out and squirt some into his hands from time to time. It's a start and better than not doing anything. Now all I have to do is try and co-ordinate the hand sanitizing with his bathroom visits. And keep all pickle jars safely secured.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Eat, drink and be wary.

Watch your back, folks: Sheriff Sodium is on the prowl!
We all gotta eat, but when part of staying alive and well means crucial dietary restrictions someone has to be in charge.
Nana's used to staying away from certain foods. Once you've had a near death bowel obstruction, and she's had six, you become almost afraid to eat. Can't blame her, really. She stays away from raw fruits and vegetables, particularly the cruciferous kind that can cause excess gas, bloating or in Nana's case possibly fatal flatulence.
To Nana there is no such thing as 'al dente'. She prefers her food overcooked, relatively bland and not too much at a time. This meant that any meal she cooked was perfectly enjoyable for her. The others at the table would often spend their meal doing their darndest to catch soupy spaghetti with their spoons. It wasn't too long before I'd cook two meals for every breakfast, lunch and dinner, cleverly tabled as one so as not to hurt Nana's feelings.
Now Grampa George is another story. Stage four of congestive heart failure for him means staying as far away from salt as possible. Enlarged and disfunctional, his heart has enough trouble keeping his circulation going. This means that the rest of his organs are barely keeping up with their own jobs. Retaining water is one of the biggest problems. Before he moved in so much water had gathered in his lungs that he could barely breathe and had to sleep sitting upright. Even more water pooled in his feet, the intense swelling finally causing huge blisters to open up that took months to heal.
Nana's pretty good about keeping to her diet and now that she's 'forgetting' more, she's occasionally trying foods she's sworn off for years. Grampa George is having a hard time of it. Now that he's feeling better he's hungry. He's allowed a reasonable amount of food but still gets up from the table unsatisfied. Keeping his meals salt free was impossible. It's easier to limit the salt in his food and limit his portions. There's no reason to torture the man. We all live finite lives and taking away all food enjoyment just isn't right. We try our best to stick to healthier, limited snacks and tasty favorite meals.
What's helped a lot is serving soup for either lunch or dinner on most days. Also, meals are not dished out at the table where everyone can help themselves, but doled out by me, one plate at a time, right from the stove. Second helpings are allowed since first helpings are reasonable in size and give me the advantage of mind over matter. Since carrots and celery sticks don't go well with dentures, I've substituted red, green and yellow peppers with great success and a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar to hide the empty spaces on the plate.
Now if only I could keep Grampa George from grabbing a handful of mini dills while gliding past the kitchen counter after dinner to put his empty plate in the sink.